Raiders

Raiders might have the perfect player to slow down Rob Gronkowski

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AP

Raiders might have the perfect player to slow down Rob Gronkowski

ALAMEDA – The Raiders, like every other team, use scout teams designed to preview the next opponent and looks they might give. Practice-squaders often don the jersey of certain stars, skill players especially, while imitating key threats.

Someone might wear New England’s No. 87 this week, but there’s no replicating Rob Gronkowski. The dude stands 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. He’s built like an ox, with a badger’s on-field disposition.

“There’s nobody really, not with his size and the way he can block and run,” rookie defensive back Obi Melifonwu said. “It’s hard, but you have to do what you have to do.”

The Raiders haven’t done well with tight ends. That position has notoriously plagued them in years past, especially the good ones. Gronkowksi’s the absolute best when healthy.

Tight ends have 45 receptions for 492 yards and four touchdowns against this years Raiders, with Tennessee’s Delanie Walker, Washington’s Vernon Davis L.A. Chargers’ Hunter Henry and Miami’s Julius Thomas causing the biggest problems.

In other words, size and receiving skill equals trouble for the Silver and Black.

Kansas City’s Travis Kelce has long been a Raider killer, but had just four catches for 33 yards and a touchdown in a victory over the Chiefs. That’s considered a good day at the office versus Kelce. They’d certainly take that Sunday against New England at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.

The Raiders beat Kelce up pretty good in Week 7, with linebacker Bruce Irvin chipping him wherever possible. It’s less about knocking him down than rhythm and timing disruption. That tactic could be employed again, especially with emphasis being placed on avoiding explosive plays to speedster Brandin Cooks.

Slowing Gronkowski isn’t easy. Few, if any, do it well. Gronkowski has 60 catches for 583 yards and five touchdowns. He’s second in the league with 2.16 yards per route run, and has 15.3 yards per reception. The University of Arizona alum’s also an excellent run blocker, providing the versatility to trap a defense in sub personnel and run physical or pass deep with him against a defensive back.

He’s a matchup nightmare, a tag liberally applied to tight ends that fits perfectly in this case.

This would be a great time for Melifonwu to shine. He was drafted as a Raiders tight end eraser. That was the original goal, before a knee injury cost Melifonwu the season’s first half. His role is limited somewhat – he played seven defensive snaps in his NFL debut at Miami -- though playing the Dolphins and getting two more weeks practice leaves him better prepared for some one-on-one coverage.

Melifonwu has the size and speed to keep up with Gronkowski, but none of the veteran savvy. The key, in the UConn alums mind, is not playing into Gronkowski’s hands.

“A lot of people try to out-physical him,” Melifonwu said. “You have to play to your strengths. He’s a big, physical guy with strong hands. It’s definitely going to be tough, but it’s a matchup that’s going to be fun.”

Jon Gruden gets Raiders fans ready for training camp with party

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USATSI

Jon Gruden gets Raiders fans ready for training camp with party

To celebrate his return to the sideline, Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden threw a party for fans on Friday at Ricky's Sports Theatre and Grill in San Leandro.  

Raider Nation showed up in droves. 

In all, over 500 fans showed up, according to a Ricky's spokesperson.

"We are honored to be a part of the love story between Jon Gruden and this fan base," the spokesperson said. "It's incredibly special. And the significance of this event, at this time, is not lost on us."

The Raiders, Gruden, and Ricky's all collaborated on the event, which came together because of Gruden's relationship with Ricky's owners, Ricky and Tina Ricardo. Gruden paid for the catering and entertainment himself, according to the spokesperson. 

Plenty of Raiders alumni attended, including Cliff Branch and Lester Hayes, according to ESPN's Paul Gutierrez. Branch even took the mic and made a guarantee. 

Gruden broke in as an NFL head coach with the Raiders in 1998, and coached Oakland for four seasons. It was in Oakland where Gruden was first given the nickname "Chucky," after the murderous puppet in the Child's Play film franchise. Gruden paid tribute to those roots at Ricky's with a... creative autograph signing. 

Raiders training camp begins on July 27. Whether or not the team will be joined by its best defensive player remains to be seen. 

Star defensive end Khalil Mack skipped the team's mandatory minicamp in June in pursuit of a new contract. Gruden told fans on Friday that the team will "find a way" to bring Mack back. 

Raiders confirm Greg Papa out as team's radio voice after two decades

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AP

Raiders confirm Greg Papa out as team's radio voice after two decades

The Raiders made it official Thursday. Legendary broadcaster Greg Papa, who also serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Bay Area, no longer will be the radio voice of the team.

[RAY RATTO: Raiders' exit feels much more imminent after reported broadcaster swap]

Raiders owner Mark Davis made the following statement Thursday: 

The Raiders organization would like to thank Greg Papa for his two decades of service to the Silver and Black.. He wasn’t just given the job.. He earned it.. With intense preparation Greg was always ready for the call.. Just as my generation remembers Bill King and “Holy Toledo”.. The Raider Nation will remember Greg Papa and “Touchdown Raiders”.. We wish Greg and his family the best in whatever the future brings..
-Mark Davis-

Brent Musburger reportedly will replace Papa in the booth. That hasn't been made official, however.